December 1, 2009

Addressing a Complaint

Ah, what fun this is going to be. Who doesn’t wake up in the morning and say to himself, "What a great day to think about all the things that are wrong with [insert your business or job here]"? Well, maybe that would be a good way to get the juices flowing. But the difficult task of actually correcting a legitimate problem can be daunting.

A few months ago, I took over as editor-in-chief of the SoundStage! Network. I’ve been with the organization for 11 years and, along with Doug Schneider and Marc Mickelson (no longer with SS!N), have helped guide the development and content of our family of websites. But last summer, the change in my role prompted me to take up the challenge of casting a critical eye on what information we present, how and where we present it, even when we present it. There was no better gut check than to look at our network through the eyes of those most critical of us. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

The source of perhaps the hardest-hitting complaint wasn’t some anonymous Internet lurker, lobbing e-mailed bombs at us from some far-off computer, but someone much closer to home: my mom, over lunch.

Mom: Jeff, I just can’t find the CES coverage.
Me: It’s where it’s always been, Mom.
Mom: Which website?
Me: It’s on SoundStage! AV, same as always.
Mom: I never go to that website. Can you send me the link?
Me: Sure thing.

Mom wasn’t the first person to complain about not being able to find our event coverage or navigate our websites, but suddenly it was plain to me that she needed to be the last. I mean, she’s my mother -- if she, an average Internet user, can’t find what she’s looking for several times a year, every year . . . well, Houston, we have a problem.

So, one night last August, publisher Doug Schneider and I talked for two hours about it. We brainstormed, asked tough questions, put everything on the table. I was talking to the right guy: Doug, and Karen Fanas, our art director, are the creative forces behind the nuts’n’bolts of the SoundStage! Network websites. Together, they’ve worked to build the world’s only cohesive network of related websites covering the specialty-audio industry. As our slogan states, we’ve been Live since ’95 -- we’ll celebrate our 15th anniversary in 2010. We’ve certainly got a lot of there there, but to be improved, it all needed to be tied together better.

So it was with my everyman’s perspective, along with Doug’s build-a-better-website mentality and Karen’s keen eye for visual design, that we came to some hard conclusions. The first was that SoundStage! AV wasn’t really working the way we’d envisioned it. Among our network of URLs it was relatively obscure, and didn’t generate the "supersite" enthusiasm we’d envisaged when we created it. Worse, SSAV contained some of our most important content -- including all of our event coverage. If readers couldn’t find our most important content, then, obviously, something needed to be fixed. So the decision was made to shut down SoundStage! AV and move its content to somewhere that made more sense -- a new website that would be more user-friendly, more intuitively easy to navigate, and would give people a real reason to visit often.

That somewhere is the brand-new SoundStage! Network site, at Far more thought and experimentation went into the development of this site than I can detail here, but several critical points are worth noting. First, the event coverage we produce is a network-wide effort; writers from all of our sites participate, and the coverage we provide -- of the Consumer Electronics Show, the CEDIA Expo, the High End in Germany, and the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest -- is designed to be relevant and interesting to the readers of all of our sites. So it made sense to have that coverage hosted not on a site with scant ties to the other URLs, but on an overarching network website, essentially making it a part of all the other SoundStage! Network sites: SoundStage!, Ultra Audio, GoodSound!, Home Theater & Sound, and SoundStage! V. So from now on, you’ll find all of our event coverage at

This brings up another suggestion we’ve heard from more than one person: Find a way to make the content on all of your sites easier to find -- maybe even put it all in one place. Well, SoundStage! Network incorporates that suggestion too: each month, a synopsis of each site’s content will appear on the SoundStage! Network homepage. Beginning right now, from that single URL, you’ll be able to directly click through to virtually all of our content. That one bookmark will be all you need -- if you follow all the links, you won’t miss a thing. You’ll also find other resources we’re producing for SoundStage! Network, such as speaker and electronic measurements, archived equipment reviews, continually updated audio/video news, and more.

And next month on SoundStage! Network we’ll present something else brand-new, and thus address another complaint, this one about a gaping hole in our coverage: a year-end buying guide. Our annual Equipment Buying Guide will debut December 1. I’ll talk more about it next month; right now, suffice it to say that it will be way cool -- and, I hope, something you’ll use often.

And Mom? Please go to There you’ll see a tab labeled "Event Coverage." Move your cursor over that tab, then click on the event whose coverage you want to read. It’ll take you there directly. It’s easy. Finally.

. . . Jeff Fritz


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